Huge List of Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Consumption and Waste
Have you seen that meme that’s like, “try organic food, or as your grandparents called it, “food.””
Well the same concept applies to plastic. Back in the good ole’ days life without plastic and ridiculous amounts of waste was just life. These days though it seems like literally everything comes with some type of plastic. I can’t imagine why people are getting sick and marine life is dying.
You heard the sarcasm there right?
This is definitely a problem but what’s a person to do? Like I said plastic comes with everything and as much as I’d like to say this is a completely self sufficient homestead, it ain’t. We still buy stuff all the time and the idea of trying to quit plastic is super overwhelming.
Which coming from me is pretty crazy. I usually consider my self pretty eco-friendly and among certain circles I may be “that crunchy friend.” I went to a college that has the word “sustainable” in probably half of the class names. I’m vegetarian, don’t consume dairy, and only eat eggs from my own hens. I co-own an organic vegetable farm and off-grid homestead in the making with another hippy, permaculturalist, farmer.
Like I said, pretty hippy.
And yet plastic still sinks its teeth into our everyday lives and I want it gone. Someday I’d love for us to be a zero waste family but it’s hard to take the plunge all at once. Here are some of the steps we’re taking. Even if you just pick a few you’ll be doing a world of good.
Don’t think a couple things you do will make a difference? That one plastic bag that you didn’t use today, won’t get eaten by that one sea turtle who thinks they look like jellyfish. And you know what? That one sea turtle, he matters. Plus he’s awesome and super grateful. So do whatever you can.
Give up sponges.
I know, I really like using sponges too but they’re made of plastic and other gross chemicals. Plus they can harbor all sorts of bacteria. It took a little adjustment but now we rely on dish clothes and steel wool for those extra tough jobs. The dish cloths save us a lot of money and I can just toss them in the wash. **Update: I found the sponges pictured above on Amazon and it says they’re non-plastic and made from renewable materials.
Don’t purchase new small appliances.
I promise you don’t need all of them. If your countertops are covered in appliances that don’t get used everyday consider trying to lie without some when they eventually break. That’s exactly how we decided to live microwave free. I used to think we really needed one but after a few months I don’t even remember that we ever used one.
Ditch paper towels.
Yeah you can buy those un-paper towels everyone talks about or just do what we do and have this crazy pile of rags in the cabinet. If you’re like me and grossed out buy the idea of things getting used on say the floor and then on your kitchen table have color coded rags. Thrift store baskets make great organizers.
Make your own cleaners
There’s a lot of different recipes available. Basically all we use is white vinegar with orange or lemon peels soaked in it and baking soda for things that need good scrubbing. We knew it was time to make the switch for health reasons too. Every time I used our old multi-purpose cleaner I’d have to hold my breath or cough the whole time.
Don’t buy plastic tupperware.
We totally still have a bunch that we’ve collected over the last couple of years but we’re slowly replacing them with glass or metal containers instead of purchasing new plastic. A great place to find these cheaply is thrift stores. Also this one comes with big health benefits. Plastic leaches harmful chemicals into your food especially when heated.
Learn to repair something.
Even if you only do one thing at least you’re trying and you can barter with people for their skills. Examples include car maintenance, darning sweaters, computer repair, even something as simple as knowing how to replace a shovel handle when it breaks (if you’re a homesteader trust me it eventually will) can be so helpful.
Use metal or glass water bottles.
Basically re-read the last tip. If a new water bottle sounds pricey (hey this me seem little to some people but trust me I get it) next time you purchase something liquid try to pick something in a nice glass bottle. Use it, wash it, and ta-da new water bottle.
Whatever your buying look for eco-friendly companies.
If you’re set on buying new look for eco-friendly companies and/or companies that offer lifetime warranties. If they’re offering that you know their product is made to last not to end up in the landfill a year down the road.
Don’t buy crappy plastic decorations no matter what holiday it is.
They’re not worth it and your home will look way more like all those lovely Pinterest or HGTV photos if you go with quality handmade, homemade, and/or natural decor. Plus if you go the handmade or natural route you bring the family together for a walk outside to find things like pine cones or a day of crafting. Learn about Decorating with Native Evergreens in the South.
Make your own laundry powder.
It may come without that lovely toxic chemical smell but I promise it will get your clothes just as clean. Find our recipe here.
Make your own bread and crackers.
It’s been a long time since we’ve purchase these. They’re much easier than you’d think to make though we don’t eat a lot of crackers because I find it a bit time consuming. When you consider the plastic, price, and ingredients list though the homemade versions are totally worth it. These are my go to recipes: Hearty Sandwich Bread and Olive Oil Crackers. If you really can’t find time to make your own try to find a bakery that will let you bring a cloth bag or uses paper packaging.
Opt for butter (or dairy free alternatives) in paper packaging.
They may not be perfect but they’re a lot better than purchasing those plastic tubs. I also find having a butter dish on the table more attractive than a plastic container.
If you’re going to buy something in a container keep in mind what will happen to the container afterwards.
I love seltzer water. I know it sounds silly but occasionally buy some but rather than purchase it in plastic bottles I buy it in cans. I know I can burn the cardboard in my wood stove and will be motivated to take the cans to the recycling center because I get money for them. I also try to buy products in packages I know I’ll re-use like Classico Spaghetti jars which are canning jars or 360 Vodka that comes in an awesome glass flip top. Note that some wine bottles which come with plastic corks that aren’t recyclable! Opt for real cork instead.
Eat hot cereal.
Regular cereal has become an American staple food. Even if you buy the healthy versions it still has two big problems. It’s packaged in plastic and expensive. On the other hand hot cereals like grits, oatmeal, and cream of wheat are usually cheaper and come in nice burnable or compostable cardboard boxes. Alternatively you can learn to make your own granola. I like the simple granola from a Farmish Kind of Life.
Shop at the farmers’ market, farm stand, or get a CSA share.
Most foods from these places will come with less packaging but even if they don’t many farmers are happy to keep the packaging or have you bring it back to be re-used (like egg cartons and fruit baskets). You’re also supporting the local economy. No shame self promotion: if you’re local to us in West Virginia you can you can purchase a CSA share, visit our farm stand, or find us at the Capitol Market next summer. Just shoot me an email or Facebook message for more info.
Use re-uable shopping bags.
Not just the big ones I mean the produce bags too. This is something we definitely need to work on. I often forget to put them back in the car if I don’t know I’m going shopping so when I run in to grab a few items I don’t have them with me. Also if I go to our local store to purchase a few beers they are required to bag them so I can’t just say no thanks. My strategies for fixing this are having a ton so there’s usually a few in the car and going through the self checkout at the grocery store so I’m not too embarrassed to just throw everything back in my basket.
Eat whole foods
This pretty much goes hand in hand with buying in bulk. It seems like in the grocery stores the more processing that goes into the food the more packaging it comes with. Think about all the plastic in those boxes of little brownie snack things or a frozen dinner.
Buy in bulk
I’ve heard this one a lot and none of our grocery stores have an actual bulk section but they do have bigger bags of stuff. While I can’t ditch the packaging all together I can reduce it by buying products in larger quantities for example we buy 25lb bags of rice, flour, and sugar, 5lb bags of pinto beans, and gallon jugs of molasses. It takes us a long time to go through those amounts but it cuts down on packaging and trips to the store! If you have the option of course purchasing things in your own cloth bags is in better.
How can composting help reduce your plastic consumption? Well each time you compost something you’re not throwing it in the trash and using a trash bag. Composting is great for other reasons too of course. You’re putting organic material to good use instead of just filling a landfill.
Grow Your Own
Gardening is worth it and totally not that hard. I hate, hate, hate people saying, “I don’t have a green thumb…” Humans have been involved with agriculture for thousands of years. We’ve literally evolved doing it. Plus as a self-taught gardener I’ll tell you having a green thumb is more about plain ole’ hard work than skill. Sure there are a few things I’ve learned over the last few years that are helpful but we live in the age of technology. Don’t know what’s eating your tomatoes? Google it!
Avoid Convient Stores
I’ll admit I’ll run in and get a can of soda or a few cans of beer but pretty much everything else in those places comes loaded with plastic packaging.
Don’t buy things in “snack packs.”
I know it’s more convenient, especially if you have children and can help with portion control but they are so not worth it. First of all I’ve yet to see and actually healthy snack pack of anything. Secondly if you still really want tiny portions of junk food by a big bag/box of something and divide it up into mason jars when you get home.
Purchase recyclable or compostable brushes.
This includes tooth brushes, hair brushes, scrub brushes you name it. There are so many (mostly bamboo) eco-friendly options available and a lot of them are reasonably priced. Plus your house will look way cooler with bamboo brushes on your counter than plastic ones.
Make your own soap.
It’s actually really fun and if you get good you might even be able to sell some to friends and neighbors! You can find tons of great recipes for bar and liquid soap at the Soap Queen’s website.
Have a zero waste period.
They’re are several totally not as gross as they sound options available. You can try a menstrual cup, period panties, cloth pads or a combination. It may be a little strange at first but you’ll thank me later. They’re more comfortable, save heaps of cash, and are so much better for your health. Kathryn over at Going Zero Waste gives great information about cloth pads and period panties and menstrual cups.
Skip the Q-Tips
Honestly I just use a twisted up piece of toilet paper but their are reusable options out there. If you don’t feel comfortable giving them up try to purchase the brands that don’t include plastic.
Buy toilet paper that doesn’t have plastic packaging.
Depending on you situation you may able to buy brands like Scott or Seventh Generation toilet paper that is wrapped in just paper or in a cardboard box instead of plastic.
Use herbal remedies.
While I would never recommend you give up doctors and modern medicine in their entirety I truly believe herbal remedies have their place. A quick search will turn up tons of online resources about herbalism. So before you go buy that couch medicine maybe give elderberry syrup a try. Herbal remedies are even better if you can forage or grow them yourself.
Stop using supplements.
Okay that sounds bad too. If you need your supplement don’t stop but consider why you need it. Do you have a medical condition or are you just drinking V8 and taking a multivitamin because you don’t eat right. Eating whole foods and a balanced diet will keep you healthier, reduce waste, and might eliminate your need for supplements.
Drink tons of water.
Water keeps you healthy and anytime you can skip a trip to the doctor or dentist you’re saving money, time, and keeping trash out of the landfill. Staying hydrated helps your body fight off illness and not being thirsty will help you kick soda cravings. Plus constantly sipping on water does double duty, rinsing your teeth and fighting cavities.
Buy pet food in recyclable containers.
We buy food in paper bags and metal cans without sacrificing quality. If you’re really pet savvy you can make your own pet food too!
Make your own pet treats.
There’s tons of recipes from rabbit treats, to dog treats, to parakeet treats. Whatever variety your friend may be I’m sure they won’t miss the packaging and you’ll save money.
Use thrifted items as food and water dishes.
We have pets that eat from casserole dishes and pretty little bowls. They don’t seem to care either way just avoid anything plastic. It can be harmful for pets just like humans. It can even cause pet acne. If you really want new matching bowls opt for stainless steel or glass.
Buy durable pet products made from sustainable materials.
This includes things like beds, toys, and collars. Look for things that will last and are made from materials like organic cotton. For us many of these things were out of our budget so we’ll be making our own as we need to replace things. This evening I sewed a new pet bed (pictured above) from thrift store and scrap materials. Next on our list is a jacket for our little Merle.
Don’t buy unnecessary additives.
Need to lime your garden? Use ashes from your wood stove or bonfire. Need fertilizer? Use compost, manure, manure tea, or grass clippings. Need mulch? Please don’t buy the dyed wood mulch. You can get plain wood chips from the power company, leaves from the woods or curbside urban pickups, or older hay or straw from farmers.
Make your own plant markers.
Fun ideas I’ve seen include old canning jar lids, old silverware, and sticks. Here’s how to DIY adorable flag ones from old soda cans. If those aren’t your style just search Pinterest for some inspiration.
Buy pots at thrift stores or turn other household “junk” into eclectic planters.
I’ve seen stock tanks, cook pots, and even shoes turned into plant pots. Again Pinterest is an excellent resource for ideas.
Avoid tools with plastic handles and look for durability.
Many tools if you’re willing to spend a little extra up front will last lifetimes. Some even have lifetime warranties. One of my recent finds is Gulland Forge broad forks. I don’t own one (yet) but they seem durable, are made in the US, are plastic free, and oh so pretty.
Buy a soil blocker
If you start a lot of plants from seed purchasing a soil blocker will save you money and reduce your environmental impact. They’re easy to use once you get the hang of them and many people in swear that their plants do better in soil blocks than traditional trays. You can find the soil blocker we’re purchasing here.
The Golden Rule
Change your habits and try to only purchase things that are used or plastic free.
The best way I’ve found is to look at a list of everything you’ve purchased in the last week/month (you might find looking at a debit card statement helpful or just look through your house/trash). Then write down all the purchases you made that included plastic and come up with a list of alternative purchases you could’ve made. Could you have bought the those tomatoes in your own bag instead of the ones in a plastic container? What about that new sweatshirt? Could you have found an organic cotton option or checked your local thrift shop?
Whew! Was that a lot to handle or what!
Well don’t worry we’re not quite their either and that’s okay! Join us as we begin the journey towards zero waste. Your grandchildren (and don’t forget about that sea turtle) will totally thank you for whatever improvement you make.
What do you do to reduce your waste?
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